Head of California Geological Survey weighs in on Tahoe quakes, tsunami potential

Local News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) – Among the secrets beneath Lake Tahoe’s famously blue 1,600-foot deep waters lie a number of fault zones.

Geologists are well aware of the potential for a large earthquake.

But the shaking seen lately in this region is well within the range of normal seismic activity, says Dr. Steve Bohlen, head of the California Geological Survey.

That activity includes Monday’s quakes on a fault near the middle of the lakebed.

“What we would call a normal fault. It’s where there’s extension and one side drops down in relation to the other,” Dr. Bohlen said.

These latest quakes may not have registered on the minds of many locals, but the larger of the two did register 3.4 on the Richter scale.

And that posed a question: Is there the potential for a large damaging quake in the Tahoe basin?

The answer is not only yes, but there is also potential for a Tahoe tsunami.

“It does appear that there is very good geologic evidence for a what we would call a tsunami, a massive wave that was almost certainly caused by a large landslide occurring after, or at the very tail end of a very large quake, magnitude six-ish,” Dr. Bohlen explained.

Dr. Bohlen says there is ample geological evidence that such an event happened between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.

Not that anyone should lose sleep over the possibility.

“Ten to 20,000 years ago, the Tahoe region was quite different. The Alpine glaciers were retreating. There was lots of unconsolidated sediments,” Dr. Bohlen told FOX40. “And so, the same event today might not necessarily cause a large enough landslide to then basically push a wall of water to the other side of the lake.”

Dr. Bohlen says recent quakes should serve as a reminder that we all need to be prepared with emergency kits on hand anywhere in California.

“Almost everyone is going to survive even the most serious geologic or seismic disaster,” he said. “The question is, what happens after you survive? How well you survive depends on how well you plan.”

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